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Problems with implementing alternative energy projects in Nigeria

By Afam Nnaji on August, 3 2010

Views: 6,389

As the cost of energy from conventional sources like fossil fuel and coal continues to increase and the need to reduce the level of carbon emission that is being argued as being the major cause of global warming remains a popular agenda, the need to turn to renewable energy becomes the only viable and sustainable alternative or solution.

What this means is that people, organizations and nations continue to look for ways to cost effectively develop or implement alternative energy solutions that would work side by side the regular or existing sources of energy and in some cases become complete replacements where energy (read electricity) is generated, stored (if need be) and utilized independent of the typical grid.

It should be noted here and now that a good energy efficiency program when applied to any given energy situation will make the option of alternative or renewable energy economically viable as long as the calculations and sizing/selection of components are done properly by knowledgeable providers.

However, in Nigeria today we have a very disturbing scenario where the awareness of these alternative sources of energy is increasing by the day and yet the rate of failed alternative energy projects is on the increase leading to disappointments, wastages and in some cases outright dismissal of anything related to alternative energy.

The good news is that the problem is no inherent in the renewable energy sources themselves but with the implementation which means that a well thought out and planned alternative energy project should deliver on all promises if executed properly.

The reasons why the implementation of these projects run into problems are people and technology.

1. People
○ Clients or end users: Without a comprehensive energy analysis it is impossible to get an alternative energy solution that will provide the required energy for the duration or autonomy required. So, unless an end user is ready to provide a complete list of electrical and/or electronic products including their power ratings that end user can never get a solution that will deliver on the need as it will simply boil down to gambling and hoping for the best.

A comprehensive list makes it easy to size the following; electricity generators like solar panels and wind turbines, charge controllers for regular electricity, solar panels or wind turbines to handle the charging of the battery bank, the battery bank and the power inverters. Incorrect energy analysis and/or backup time calculations will definitely lead to disappointments and wasted funds.

○ Alternative energy providers: Just as a referee in a football match is limited to his/her understanding of the FIFA rules an alternative energy provider will provide or recommend a solution based on his/her understanding, knowledge, experience and professional integrity. If one or more of these is lacking then you cannot be sure of anything.

It is the duty of the alternative energy provider to ensure that the energy analysis is correct, that the battery bank settled for will deliver on the expected autonomy, that the battery charger (whether integrated or dedicated) will charge the batteries properly, that the power inverters are suitable for the project and that all these units/components will work properly and in a very safe manner.

Then we come to the very important issues of after sales support and warranty. Who pays for repairs or replacements? What is the typical response time? What is the maximum waiting time for repairs or replacements to be carried out? Without having answers to these questions the end user or client will simply be taking a gamble and when it comes to the initial capital outlay of alternative energy projects this is a huge risk unless of course money is not an issue.

2. Technology
○ Solar panels: The type and guaranteed maximum power output under normal operating conditions should be known, not results of tests carried out in laboratories under ideal conditions as such conditions usually are not obtainable outside the controlled lab environment.
○ Wind turbines: Issues such as the horizontal and vertical clearances, rated power output under normal operating conditions and ease of access in case of repairs or need for maintenance must be known and provided for.
○ Batteries: Your alternative energy project is only as good as the state of charge of your battery bank. Deep cycle batteries are well suited for backup applications unless you don't mind having your batteries replaced after every few months.
○ Battery chargers or charge controllers: These must be rated properly to handle the charging of the batteries in any given battery bank regardless of voltage level without destroying the batteries either by over charging or under charging. Either way you will destroy the battery just that over charging speeds up the process.
○ Power inverters: These should be rated to handle not just the normal operating power but the starting power of all the electrical and/or electronic appliances connected to them especially for inductive and capacitive loads. Modified sine wave inverters should not be used for sensitive medical equipment and laser copiers. Needless to state this, ensure that you get a meaningful warranty and be ready to take legal actions or seek refunds if burnt or short changed.

So, it is clear that getting an alternative energy project up and running is not just a matter of prices and promises as a very expensive project could crash in a matter of weeks and more often than not unrealistic promises usually lead to huge disappointments and wasted funds.

Alternative energy makes sense and it is cost effective and reliable if handled by competent providers who will insist on a high level of professional integrity at all times.


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